Basilicata: Aglianico’s kingdom

Most Italian regions have if anything an embarrassment of riches when it comes to grape varieties.  Tuscany is far more than Sangiovese, while Piedmont has numerous local varieties apart from Nebbiolo. By contrast Basilicata’s quality wine scene is completely dominated by Aglianico and that from one DOC: del Vulture.  Here the robust, intensely age-worthy (and bottle-age requiring) Aglianico reigns supreme. Even in neighbouring Campania, the variety has to share the limelight with three important whites and some interesting black varieties.  The two regions may be close together – it’s only 90 kilometres from Taurasi to Monte Vulture – but the offer could not be more different.  

Viticultural basics

The Aglianico del Vulture region is sheltered by the volcano Monte Vulture which rises to the east of the region. The climate is markedly continental for Italy with a long, dry autumn, essential for a late ripening variety like Aglianico. Big day/night temperature differences help to retain acidity and freshness in the fruit.  As (I am pleased to report) there have been very long intervals between explosive bouts of volcanic activity, the sedimentary layers show a helpful combination of limestone/clay strata along with fast draining ash and stones.  Vines are planted at moderate density (4-5,000 per hectare) with a few ambitious growers planting at high densities. Most are trained either to Guyot or spurred cordons. Rainfall is in the region of 550mm per year, mostly outside of the growing season but some in the harvest months.  The grapes are harvested in late October or even early November. 

Leading producers 

Paternoster is one of the older established commercial wineries of the region. They have just been taken over by their long time distributor Tommasi so I would expect to see new developments here – they certainly have space for it in their capacious winery. They have already diversified into a worthwhile Falanghina (perfumed, herbal, touch of green leaf and banana about it). It has a fine series of Aglianico del Vulture wines, from a range of 15 wines many of which are intended for a local/national market:

  • Synthesi 2015 13%, used to be the one wine of the company, now the entry point for the DOC wine, 10 days skin contact, wine  aged in large oak casks (80%) and 20% in French oak barriques, 70,000 bottles a year made 
  • Rotondo 2012 14%,  from a single vineyard of the same name, similar 10 days of skin contact, malo carried out in barrels, aged for 18 months in French barriques, a portion new 
  • Don Anselmo 2012 14.5%, selection of best fruit from 80-year old vineyards, low yields (35-40 quintals/ha), 15 days skin contact, 50% aged in large oak casks, 50% in barriques for 20-22 months (returning to a more traditional style with the use of casks)

These wines are very good in their respective price ranges and are a great ambassador for Vulture.  

 

 

Two stars

Elena Fucci is the spirit behind the firm of the same name.  Since 2000 she has made a considerable name with her one wine: Titolo, Aglianico del Vulture. Scores in wine guides are not everything but she has 12 consecutive ‘tre bicchieri’ awards from the Gambero Rosso and scores in the mid-90s and above from Monica Larner for Parker, an extraordinary feat for a small, 6-hectare estate.  The new winery with its advanced build (all from recovered materials and built-in systems for humidifying as necessary, removing CO2 and reusing water) is a testimony to her success.  The secrets of her achievement are buying some old-vineyards at 600m of altitude, close spacing in the re-planted vineyards at 8-10,000 plants/hectare for low yields, picking for phenolic ripeness and then scrupulous selection. If the fruit is not good enough for Titolo, it is not picked.  The vinification is particular too.  After destemming the grapes are cooled for a couple of days to 10ºC and then extracted gently for just 10-12 days with a low maximum fermentation temperature of 22ºC.  The skins are very gently pressed (1 bar only). The wine is then aged in small, 200 litre, barrels (50% new, 50% second use) with thicker wood walls for a slow oxidative process, with malo taking place in the barrel.  The aim is elegance and subtlety in the wines; power comes naturally with the Aglianico variety.  We tasted two contrasting vintages, the cool 2014 and the perfect 2015.  The former saw a low production due to selecting out 40% of the fruit but the result is excellent: deep ruby colour, sleek red plum and blackberry fruit, very fragrant; austere in the mouth but fine tannins; plenty of concentration and structure to develop in the bottle for a decade or two. The 2015 is densely black-fruited and spicy with a powerful but fine tannic structure and brisk acidity: it has everything you could want for a long and developing life. 

If Elena Fucci has been publicly lauded for her efforts, Viviana Malafarina has an equally interesting story to tell at Basilisco.  The winery is owned by the owner of the Campanian giant, Feudi di San Gregorio.  Viviana arrived seven years ago and has worked her way up to be the winemaker, and heart and soul of the winery. The remarkable thing that all her learning was on the job. She arrived with a background in hospitality management, a remarkable palate, incredible dedication and no winemaking education.  Seven years on we can testify that she is making some of the most exciting, racy, and fragrant single-vineyard Aglianico that can be imagined.  I really applaud the owner for giving her her head – and I hope that the company will bottle and sell some more of these remarkable wines from the single vineyards Croce, Vigna di Mezzo and Prete in the near future. Fontanelle and Storico are already available if in tiny quantities. There is no intrinsic reason why these names should not be held in the high esteem that single vineyards are in Barolo or for that matter on the Côte d’Or.   And if the story is not romantic enough, the company also owns one of the old cave-cellars carved out of the tufo in Barile’s cellar street: great wine, terrific marketing opportunity! 

The landscape of Basilicata is an alluring mixture of remoteness, grandeur and a certain rugged beauty. Aglianico del Vulture at its best conveys something of these qualities. 

 

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